Iraqis see Congress backing down from Bush

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- An informal poll of Iraqis suggests that many think President Bush holds the upper hand in the struggle with the U.S. Congress over funding the Iraq war, and they doubt that Democrats can force a phased withdrawal of troops as a condition of passing a spending bill.

"Bush is a fox who knows how to play the game and turn it to his own advantage," said Razaq Hobi Karreem, a 40-year-old laborer in Baghdad, confident that Bush will get his way on the budget.

Karreem was one of 20 Iraqis in several cities interviewed yesterday on the spending battle and the outcome's effect on their future. They were about four to one in favor of coalition troops staying.

Muhammad Abdul-Ameer, a university lecturer in Najaf, said a U.S withdrawal would cause a "catastrophe" because the Iraqi army and police are not ready to shoulder security. The U.S. military is here for the long haul, he and others said, if for no other reason than to protect American economic interests and keep chaos from enveloping the region.

"After all our security has broken down and our infrastructure smashed, the Americans want to leave now? That's not going to work. They would give terrorists and militias the green light to prevail," said Dhia Saleem, a worker at a Baghdad restaurant.

"There would be no security, and regional battles would follow with outside countries interfering," offered Isam Mohammed Ali, 33, a merchant in Basra.

The comments came with violence rising across Iraq and after both houses of Congress passed measures setting timelines for a withdrawal of U.S. troops as a condition of funding the war effort. At a Camp David news conference yesterday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Bush reiterated his vow to veto any such limit.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military command announced that three U.S. Marines were killed Thursday in combat in Iraq's Anbar province. Identification of the victims and their units was withheld pending notification of families.

The deaths brought the number of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 to 3,337, according to a tally by

In Madrid yesterday, a Spanish judge indicted three U.S. 3rd Infantry soldiers based in Fort Stewart, Ga., in connection with the death of a Spanish journalist killed when their tank opened fire on a hotel in Baghdad during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The U.S.-led coalition also announced yesterday the death of a security detainee who was being held in a coalition-run prison, a fatality that could fan criticism by human rights groups of the conditions in which thousands of suspects are being held in Iraq.

The prisoner, whose name and hometown were not disclosed, was pronounced dead Thursday morning at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq near Umm Qasr. An investigation into the incident is pending, but officials said the inmate died after an apparent assault by other prisoners.

The victim was one of more than 19,000 security detainees being held by coalition and Iraqi forces across Iraq. In the past year, violence among detainees has killed six in detention camps and jails, the U.S. military said.

In its 10th report on Iraqi prison conditions, the United Nations expressed concern Wednesday about the well-being of detainees in Camp Bucca, Camp Cropper in Baghdad and in other facilities run by the multinational coalition.

On Thursday, U.S. officials announced the arrest of Lt. Col. William Steele, the former commander of Camp Cropper, a facility near the Baghdad International Airport where Saddam Hussein was held before his execution in December. Steele was charged with aiding the enemy, mishandling classified information and engaging in "inappropriate" relationships, officials said.

Said Arikat, the spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, said U.N. investigators had not been able to talk to detainees because military officials wanted to restrict their visits to guided tours.

Across Iraq, sectarian violence continued as seven unidentified bodies were found dumped in Baghdad yesterday. All were men killed by gunshots.

The bodies of three apparent victims of sectarian violence were found in separate locations around Kirkuk yesterday.

Chris Kraul writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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